A reflective blog by Laura Thompson, CEO and Co-Founder of Clothing The Gaps.
This photo was taken the day after the Referendum on the 15th of October, 2023 at the Aborigines Advancement League - today, one week later, it was the catalyst for me to reflect on what these seven strange days have felt like when the majority of Australians voted ‘No’ in the Referendum.
Moments in time stood frozen on Referendum Day in the Clothing The Gaps (CTG) warehouse where I was surrounded by people who left nothing in the ‘Yes’ campaign tank. We all still held onto hope despite the polls that said “we needed a miracle” and it even crossed my mind that if we won, there was going to be an impromptu party at CTG!
Just over an hour into the vote count, I heard someone say “it's over” with tears rolling down their face. The night was a blur but, I will never forget this moment, how it felt and the looks of devastation on people’s face - it was a landslide 'No' victory.
We had Albo on the TV but, couldn't bear to listen, and when Dutton appeared we turned the TV off. Randomly, we formed a yarning circle led by my Grannie, who was one of many faces of the Yes 23 campaign, it was also her 17th birthday, one she won't forget. I had no doubt she could led in this way.
Mob spoke first and then the allies shared. There was emotion and anger and moments of stillness when we just held each other. There was a big Mob cuddle that I will never forget.
I’m not sure what time I caught that Uber home, but in it, I looked at our online store for the first time all day. I was shocked. At 8pm, the same time they announced the outcome, so many supporters jumped online and brought a tee. What was interesting was that they weren’t returning customers - most of them were first time buyers.
It really was a surprise because we were mourning, and I couldn’t imagine anyone buying a tee at this time. Although unexpected, we are thankful that more people are choosing to wear their values, especially in this moment in history.
Making the 65,000 Years Strong video with my team and family was a saving grace because I knew we had this to share Sunday morning after the results. I had watched this video on repeat in the week prior and got a lump in my throat every-time.
The song 'Unbreakable' by Singer-songwriter, Jess Hitchcock (Saibai & Dauan) was perfect for our campaign which showed Aboriginal families supporting one another and reflects on our Ancestors fight for rights and their strength. We are 65,000 years strong and we are unbreakable was the reminder and message we wanted to share.
Come Sunday morning at 5am, the CTG team should have been sleeping but adrenaline was pumping and we were face-timing each other. We needed to post this 65,000 Years Strong video - we hoped Mob would wake up and find comfort in this piece.
Throughout the Referendum campaign, Mob had been vulnerable sharing their pain, trauma and family stories in order for people to understand why a “Voice” was so important. I am sad so many people ignored these stories. On repeat, we heard statistics about the inequalities and gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and it’s been hard to hear all this deficit language - but, this was a strategy to justify and educate non-Indigenous people why they should write ‘Yes’. I am disappointed that so many people ignored the facts - but, I know that millions of people who wrote 'yes' did not and I take comfort in that.
While no one has died, it does feel like we are grieving.
The CTG shop is now filled with flowers, and people whom I have never met have dropped off food. Countless people have said “I’m sorry” and I have fallen into many arms for a hug - and I’m not particularly cuddly!
I have cried, danced, felt ashamed and surprised, drank too much and then lifted some weights. I have stayed awake for way too long and then slept in! I have sent many texts with just a 🤎. I have no words. I’m doing ok but, many people are not.
What has helped me is opening up and talking to Mob about our different experiences. We have listened and supported one another. The outcome was worse than we expected, but love and connection has gotten me through this week.
I am reminding myself that it’s ok to rest. In the lead up the vote, myself like many others, put everything on hold - my health, my family, my life admin, my eyebrows! I couldn’t think beyond the Referendum.
This week, I took many deep breaths. I went out for breakfast the day after the Referendum and found myself looking at people wondering how they voted and if we could be friends! I thanked someone who was wearing their ‘Yes’ tee in the cafe because more than ever it made me feel safer in this space.
I went shopping and brought gifts for the people I had been wanting to acknowledge for ages and was meet with kindness at the ‘Lush’ store at Northlands by staff wearing their CTG pins on their lanyards and they gifted me sample body scrub pots for all the CTG team.
This week I went back to gym, tried to eat better, drink less wine and finally sorted out the eyebrows! I checked in with family, even those that were a “progressive no” because at the end of the day, kinship is everything.
I’m grateful for the progressive “Brunswick bubble” I live in where over 80% of people voted 'Yes'. I feel sad and worry about my family and other Blackfellas in regional areas, especially the kids in places where over 80% of people voted 'No'.
I am recovering. I am not giving up. I don’t know what is next - yet! I can’t really think - but, I do believe that those that campaigned for 'Yes' did the best they could with the best interests of Mob at heart.